Over 40 million Americans are so anxious, it affects their daily lives. Yet, many people go without treatment. Nature can cure anxiety and help you manage stress levels.
Anxiety vs Severe Anxiety
The right amount of acute anxiety is actually a good thing– it can improve performance, help you focus, stay organized, help you recognize when something that should be stable (like your mood or job) is not, and enhance conscientiousness.
But chronic anxiety can hinder your life in a variety of ways including:
- Increased feelings of self-doubt and fatigue
- Rumination, thinking and re-thinking the same issue
- Increased chance of chronic illnesses, such as heart disease
- Lowered life expectancy
Treatment can vary depending on the severity of your anxiety, but it can include medication, cognitive behavioral therapy, and nature-based solutions. If you have severe levels of anxiety, you will want to see a doctor about medication or therapy for anxiety.
No matter the severity of your anxiety, nature-based solutions can help. They work either with medication and therapy or on their own (for milder cases). Here are some of the most effective nature-based treatments:
Yes, it can actually be that simple. Going outside for just five minutes has been shown to have a significant effect on cortisol levels and parasympathetic nerve activity—as well as just viewing outside, smelling outside, or hearing outside when outside was a forest.
A recent Stanford study of nature therapy showed significantly reduced rumination after a 90-minute walk in nature compared to a 90-minute walk through an urban environment. In this same study, those who walked through nature for 30 minutes a day reported a decrease in negative thinking. Magnetic resonance imaging showed that the nature walkers had lower activity in an area of the brain linked to risk for mental illness compared to urban walkers.
Spending time outside — among trees, gardens, orchards, parks, forests, water, and animals, and away from the press of demands — could actually be your medicine!
Become a plant parent
If you’re unable to go outside for whatever reason — safety, weather, climate — thankfully you can bring the outdoors in. Keeping plants in your home or office cleans the air and reduces particle penetration into the lungs.
One landmark study in 2009 looked at the effect of indoor plants on hospital patients, in which 90 patients recovering from a surgery were randomly assigned to either control or plant-filled rooms. The result? Patients who had plants in their rooms reported less fatigue and pain, were hospitalized for shorter periods, experienced less anxiety, and reported higher hospital and room satisfaction than those without them.
I actually did my own study on this phenomenon called Plant with a Doc—a four week, medically proven, nature-based stress management and burnout (moral distress) technology for employees—and even presented it at the University of Chicago. It’s definitely worth a look if you want to learn more about what this research looks like in action.
Rigorous physical activity is known to have a marked effect on our physical and mental health — an effect amplified when said physical activity takes place in nature. Exercise impacts our serotonin levels, as noted in this 2011 study. A separate 2013 study that looked at participants with depression who exercised three times a week found that after 12 weeks of regular exercise, ten out of the 12 participants were no longer categorized as depressed.
Cuddle up with an animal
Your relationship with your pet is actually medicine! As we’ve talked about on the blog before, Pet therapy reduces anxiety, promotes relaxation, and provides comfort. Research shows that even just the physical act of petting an animal releases an automatic relaxation response, releasing mood-elevating hormones like serotonin, prolactin and oxytocin.
A 2005 article from the American Heart Association showed that just 12 minutes visiting with a dog was enough to help heart and lung function by “lowering pressures, diminishing release of harmful hormones and decreasing anxiety among hospitalized heart failure patients.” They reported that researchers studied three groups—patients visited by a volunteer and a dog, patients visited by just a volunteer, and patients visited by no one. The anxiety scores of those with no visitors stayed the same; those with just a human volunteer saw a 10% decrease in anxiety; but the dog-volunteer group saw a substantial 24% reduction in their anxiety scores. So if you’re looking for a natural way to reduce anxiety, giving your pet a cuddle should be on your to-do list!
Save the take out menus for another day and get to cooking something fresh and delicious. Cooking with fresh ingredients, especially fresh herbs, is a really simple way to bump your home cooking from meh to marvelous — and it’s even good for your health! Herbs that have been shown to reduce anxiety and stress include rosemary, sage, and tulsi basil. (And that’s not all they’re good for; check out my blogs to learn more about the therapeutic properties of herbs and spices.)
Still confused which treatment is right for you? Take the free quiz to discover the severity of your anxiety and to find a customized cure to it.